Today marks the kick-off for the hearings of the Commissioners-designate of the “Barroso II” team. This afternoon in Brussels, Baroness Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Janusz Lewandowski, Polish candidate for the Budget and Financial Programming portfolio, were the first two nominees to be grilled by MEPs. From today until the 19th January, all candidates will have to go through a hearing organised by specialised committees of the European Parliament.
The hearing exercise consists in a three-hour Q&A session between the candidate and members of the responsible committee. The questions asked cover the personal background and abilities of the candidate to run for the position, in addition to some concrete and specific questions on policies. This oral exam is known not to be an easy one, contrary to most TV quizzes, and candidates cannot use any jokers or “phone a friend” to help them on a question. Indeed, MEPs are committed to their designation power and will not be a soft touch. With this in mind, President Barroso has organised a training seminar to prepare his team in view of their hearings.
According to the press, some candidates should be more nervous than others, and some candidates will have to “come clean” about their past or potential conflicts of interest. Links with the mafia or being a former member of a Communist Party are the two main allegations which were made public against some nominees.
Once all the hearings are completed, another uncertainty remains, namely the entry into force of the Barroso II teams’s mandate. Should some candidates be rejected by MEPs, the designation procedure of the new Commission may turn out to be longer than expected.